You probably expect cake on your birthday, don’t you? Cupcakes at the very least. Something you can stick candles into and sing around. But haven’t you been to too many parties where the cake is store-bought and the cupcakes are dry? I have. And I am a dessert snob. So my choice for a really good birthday treat is pie.
I’ll admit to being better at baking pie than cake. How do they get those damn layers to be the same size and line up right so the cake doesn’t list to one side? My cakes are tasty enough, but lopsided and usually downright ugly. One time I put rainbow sprinkles on chocolate frosting. Imagining that? Not pretty. But I can bake the hell out of a pie.
I had good pie-baking teachers when I was growing up. My mom and aunts were practically competitive about it. Come to think of it, my mom won a cooking contest put on by our local newspaper when she made an amazing Baked Alaska with mile-high meringue, and submitted it after the first try. So the pie thing is just in my DNA.
I enjoy the whole process of procuring some locally grown fruit, slicing it up and leaving it to juice out in a sugary bath. Then I mix my flours for a whole-grain crust, literally from whole grains I have ground myself. Some good organic butter holds those flours together and makes a nice flaky crust. Once that thing is chilled, it’s so relaxing to roll it out into nice rounds that slide into my pie plate. The rolling is the best part, I think. Getting the right thickness and shape without holes. It takes some time and attention, but usually my mind wanders, thinking about the person I’m baking for. My daughter calls this part “putting the love in.” She says when you think about someone when you are baking for them, it makes the whole thing taste better, and that person will feel it when they eat the results. She may have gotten that notion from me, because I’m pretty sure I got it from my mom. That’s the special thing about passing on a skill through generations of women.
Anyway, I adore late-summer birthdays, because that’s the small window of time when peaches are coming off their trees all sweet and luscious. It’s really not fair that we can enjoy the juicy sweetness of a fresh peach for such a short time. And this year in Colorado, we’ve been even more limited. Later peach varieties would normally just be getting ripe around Labor Day, but in this dry summer, those have been at the markets for two weeks already. No problem. I was there and got some. And bonus! I got more from my friend’s backyard tree. I’ll freeze those to use when the freshies have stopped making appearances at the market.
Ok, so here you go. A photo of my favorite pies to make for birthdays. I love a simple free-form galette. With less crust, it’s really all about the fruit. A lot of people like it that way. I’m more of a crust-lover myself. So my fave is a peach pie with a pecan crunch topping. If you love pecan pies as much as fruit ones, this eliminates the choice by giving you both in every bite. (Although I’ve never had a problem with taking a slice of each).